- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; unknown edition (September 27, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143120174
- ISBN-13: 978-0143120179
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Technology Wants unknown Edition
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Verbalizing visceral feelings about technology, whether attraction or repulsion, Kelly explores the “technium,” his term for the globalized, interconnected stage of technological development. Arguing that the processes creating the technium are akin to those of biological evolution, Kelly devotes the opening sections of his exposition to that analogy, maintaining that the technium exhibits a similar tendency toward self-organizing complexity. Having defined the technium, Kelly addresses its discontents, as expressed by the Unabomber (although Kelly admits to trepidation in taking seriously the antitechnology screeds of a murderer) and then as lived by the allegedly technophobic Amish. From his observations and discussions with some Amish people, Kelly extracts some precepts of their attitudes toward gadgets, suggesting folk in the secular world can benefit from the Amish approach of treating tools as servants of self and society rather than as out-of-control masters. Exploring ramifications of technology on human welfare and achievement, Kelly arrives at an optimistic outlook that will interest many, coming, as it does, from the former editor of Wired magazine. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"A bold new book ... an engaging journey through the history of 'the technium,' a term [Kelly] uses to describe the 'global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us.'"
-The New York Times Book Review
"Kevin Kelly "radically rethinks the relationship between humans and technology ... Kelly's concept of the technium and his description of how it attains autonomy are original and timely."
"... an exuberant book."
-The Washington Post
"...consistently provocative and intriguing."
"...consistently provocative and intriguing."
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Top Customer Reviews
The majority of what Kelly describes as the 'Technium', his neologism for the sphere of technology which comprises all things that were 'made not born', should not bother even the most stringently and scientifically literal-minded among us. Most of what he writes consists of informed observations of trends and thoughtful extrapolations. There is, however, one contentious issue that plays a fundamental role in propping up the more conjectural of Kelly's disquisition, and that is the idea of what I'd call 'strong' convergent evolution. Roughly, because of the way the universe is structured and the way physical laws play out, there are certain inevitabilities which arise through the course of the cosmos' evolution. Most scientists are on board with a weak version of this, accepting that, for example, camera and compound eyes are bound to arise in similar environments to earth's eventually through natural selection, but Kelly ascribes to a much stronger version of this concept, believing that the infinite possible arrangements of how matter evolves are so constrained that biological life, and its offshoot, the technium, will bear strikingly similar forms to what we now see, even if we run back the history of the universe over and over again. This is the exact opposite of how Stephen J. Gould famously explained the process of evolution, and how most evolutionary biologists would describe the process today. I think there might be some room in orthodox evolutionary theory to allow for this, but it is certainly not the consensus, and so his musings of technological progress that are based on this 'strong' version of convergence is not as surefooted as his other ideas, though they may turn out to be prescient. That is the gamble one takes when you overreach with your imagination, but in this case Kelly still might beat the odds.
EDIT: I have changed my thinking recently and so also my views of Teilhard de Chardin's work, I now think it was unjustly criticized and I think we will rediscover, in more scientific terms, the broad view of cosmic evolution that Teilhard outlines in his book 'The Phenomenon of Man'. This also increases my prior probability distribution of Kevin Kelly's thesis in 'What Technology Wants', including the unsettled idea of convergent evolution.
The answers are not simple, in fact that are impossibly complex. Tracing cosmological, biological, and technological evolution Kelly makes an honest attempt at revealing the truly BIG answers--Man, God, Life, and Meaning. All within a historical and scientific framework.
This book has more facts and history than you can shake a spoon at and for those alone it's worth reading. Why is the smallest Rock ant smarter than our best computers? Humans can go to space but we can't make basic judgemental calls--Why? What tech will continue evolving and what will stay the same for millennia (more)? Why do the Amish use diesel engines drawn by horses? How many times have eyes evolved independently? How many individual times was Harry Potter written? Why do technological terrorists shop at Walmart? What level of tech will make you happy? All of these are answered in incredible, clear detail. The first quarter of the book is a very large scale view of technological evolution. This serves as the framework that is theoretically modified in more specific directions later.
The truly remarkable parts of this book occur in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. This is where Kelly takes your concerns and goes 10 steps beyond even the most audacious science fiction in describing technology as a living force in the greater evolutionary context of the Universe. It makes The Matrix seem like a puppet show and the remarkable thing is that Kelly says it is--in comparison to real life. Life really is stranger than fiction.
The last quarter loses steam as it concludes. With all his major points made, Kelly spends a lengthy analysis on how exactly future technology will develop. It is very convincing but understandably broad (and unknowable!). The last quarter does not detract one bit from the immensity of the ideas presented in the first 3 quarters.
What I like best is Kelly's passionate, clear, yet remarkably humble writing. The idea that we are nothing more than free yet completely inconsequential parts of a vast autonomous system is haunting yet inspiring. Kelly isn't concerned with fame or even academic impact. If he didn't write this, book someone else would have. Even Einstein only beat inevitability by a few years. He understands the scale of it all. Above all, he is concerned with the human element: how to make our lives better and how they will change in the immediate and long term future. As they always have.